In this episode, we are sharing:
How early life experience influences who we become
The biggest myths in modern parenting advice
How modern parenting advice is detrimental to maternal well-being.
Foundational elements of nurturing in practice.
The origins of a parenting style that’s far from what is healthy and safe.
You will be fascinated and inspired by this conversation.
We dig deeply into how this style of parenting is undoing generational trauma and revolutionizing what’s possible for the mental health of babies and families.
Read the transcript of this episode:
Depression, anxiety, and autoimmune symptoms after birth is not how it’s supposed to be. There is a much better way, and I’m here to show you how to do just that. Hey, my friend, I’m Maranda Bower, a mother to four kids and a biology student turned scientist obsessed with changing the world through postpartum care. Join us as we talk to mothers and the providers who serve them and getting evidence based information that actually supports the mind, body, and soul in the years after birth.
Hello everyone, welcome to the Postpartum University podcast. Maranda Bower here, your host and I have an incredible guest. Actually, we have been trying to get her on the show for a couple of months now and it’s finally happened, and I’m so excited. We have Dr. Greer Kirshenbaum, and she is the author, neuroscientist, doula, infant and family sleep specialist and a mom. She has combined her academic training with her experience as a doula and mother to lead the nurture revolution. If you haven’t heard of this, you need to listen in now, because this movement is really about nurturing our baby’s brains to revolutionize mental health and impact larger systems in our world. Her book is called the Nurture Revolution Growing your Baby’s Brain and Transforming their Mental Health Through the Act of Nurtured Parenting, which is a mouthful, but let me tell you the book is gold and we’re going to absolutely link that here so you can take a look at that later. But, Greer, welcome.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to meet you and be here with you today.
Yes, so I would love to hear your journey into this field. How did you come to this understanding and your expertise?
Yeah, I always say it started from my experience being a baby. My work in my book includes every experience I’ve had my whole life. I started out in the world really fast birth, and I was a really high needs baby, needing the kind of baby that just has to be on somebody all the time. I could be on my mom, I could be on my dad, my grandmother a few choice. People didn’t sleep a lot, very fussy, took a while to adjust to the world and my mom really nurtured me through that. She showed up written a really wonderful way, as the rest of my family did too, and that’s always stayed with me. The stories from my mom about that time, the stories her friends tell about her it’s really interesting. She was really set apart from everyone she knew by the amount of nurture that she gave me and my brother, because my brother was very, very similar to me too. So that kind of led me into curiosities about how does that early life experience influence who we become? Does it have an impact, how much of an impact? And through that experience, and also my mom’s influence, because she’s a psychotherapist and she has lots of ideas about early life experience and how it forms the brain and mind. I was directed into studying neuroscience, so I studied in my undergraduate degree, my PhD, a postdoctoral fellowship and many other trainings really dove deep into the brain circuits, the genetics, the proteins that make up our mental health and our emotional systems. And what was interesting was when I started, my research career was about, I’d say, about 15 or 20 years, depending on what parts you include, and at the beginning of that not as much was known about the emotional experience of babies and how lifelong mental health is formed. We knew a lot more about how does the visual system develop in response to experience, how does the auditory system develop in response to experience, the motor systems. But over my 15 or 20 year career, all of this incredible research started coming out about the emotional system, and even at the beginning I wanted to apply it to babies and apply it to people, because it was incredible the potential that the baby’s brain has to lay foundations for all of our systems. But then, once the emotional stuff started coming out, I just started collecting it. I always had a folder. I was working in that field as well, and by the end of my postdoc I was just ready to come out into the world. I was like gotta write a book, gotta get parents, professionals, into this knowledge, and so I decided to end research there. I became a birth and postpartum doula, worked with families, became a mom and now, finally, all of that experience is together in the book.
This is incredible, absolutely incredible, I tell you okay, so my background is biology. I’m actually back in school for neurobiology, so this is a hot topic for me. Awesome. I’m curious because this was not a part of what I was going to have in our interview, but I’m really curious to know your thoughts. I mean, you’re learning about we learn about the proteins and the synapses and all of these other components that go together. I often feel like it’s such a limiting way of looking at the brain and how our bodies function. Do you feel the same way? Medicine has compartmentalized these pieces, and what I’m seeing actually in your book is not the compartmentalization, or this is what this protein does, or here’s how these synapses work, which are important, but they don’t tell the whole story, which is what your book is doing.
Yeah, I think we really need that really specific research to understand how everything works. But I think that’s also where my mind was always going. So I remember in my PhD lab we had these opportunities to do speaking events for donors. My colleagues would say I’m studying the Sark protein and this cascade and this type of cell. I was like no guys. You got to say I’m studying depression. Just start with the big picture and then help people understand it through that lens. I always had my mind there. I was like I want to know that stuff and it’s so important. But from my mind I was always like why, why do we care? How can we link it to a bigger story or application?
Yes, make it to where we can actually implement this information, which I think is what you’ve done. That’s so different. That was a side note, so let’s go into a lot of the things that you are sharing on social media and within your book. They really go against the predominant ideas about baby care and even mother’s care as well. You are in the position that these ideas are myths. They are not care practices, they do not support baby and they do not support lifelong health. What are some of the biggest myths that you’re really here to bust?
Yeah, thank you for that. I think what came up in my mind when you were saying that is that what we’re doing right now is not best practice. Every single way we treat pregnant women and people, we treat birth, we treat babies, we treat fathers and partners, it’s not best practice. I might say it’s worse practice, but it really has no consideration for the transformations they’re going through, their emotional needs, which is. I’m so happy you have this podcast and I’m so happy it reaches so many people in the field, because we can do so much better than what we’re doing now with the information that we have. It’s important to start from there and it’s important to not blame anyone for spreading these myths or teaching these myths, because they’re everywhere. They’re so pervasive in all of our systems. But we really need to move on and do better.
Biggest Myths in Modern Parenting Advice
The biggest ones are the independence myth. Babies need to learn to be independent really quickly, be able to be put down really quickly, be an ambassador in that really quickly, a stroller really quickly. Hang out on their own quickly huge one handle their stress on their own. There’s just so many things that people want babies to do independently. I’d say that’s the biggest one.
Sleep is another huge one that they’re supposed to sleep a certain way, sleep really soundly and for long stretches. Both of them are just not supported by biology. They’re not in any way. Babies are interdependent. They really only feel safe, extremely close, touching, possibly even skin to skin of person for a very long time. I define infancy as the first three years of life, because that’s when the emotional brain is building. They’re babies for three years, babies for one day, sometimes, depending on where you look. Certainly not for more than a year, Absolutely not. And these myths deeply hurt parents and babies, deeply, deeply wound parents and babies. And yeah, we’ve got to update to best practice.
We do. And let’s be honest, there’s entire industries that have been created around not nurturing your babies and supporting that independence All the baby rockers and swings and strollers, sleep training and promoting biologically inappropriate sleep or crying it out and itself is a multi-billion dollar industry. Just sleep alone. And this is not here to shame or guilt anyone. I mean, I’m a mom to four and I have fallen for so many of these myths, especially with my first. You know like that whole trial and error thing and it’s really hard when there’s so little education and support and really an entire society that’s built around this.
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So I want to get into this because we I want to understand a little bit. What is? Why is this harmful? Let’s start there. Why is this so harmful and detrimental to not just baby but also to mom?
Why Conventional Parenting Advice is Detrimental to Maternal Health
Such a good question. So both babies and mothers and fathers, all parents and all parents and caregivers around a baby, are all going through really dramatic brain growth and it’s in a lot of places. I focus on the brain growth that’s happening in the emotional systems of the brain, because these are the ones that really have, you know, the biggest impact on lifelong health, both mental health and physical health. And so when we try to put a wedge between babies and their parents, we’re not giving the baby’s brain and their emotional development what it needs and we’re not giving the mothers and fathers brain development what it needs, and so both are at risk of developing mental health struggles when we, you know, are following kind of the dominant systems of treating babies and look at, look around, right, what has you know? What are we struggling with the most in society? It’s, you know, has the. You know, nurturing babies has the potential to transform everybody’s mental health. For me, I think it’s the biggest and only place to be to be putting all of our efforts into acting to change.
Yeah, and I’m so glad that you’re saying this because you know, the recognition of baby’s brain is growing, it’s rewiring more than any other period in our life. But also we have a mother and a father and parents whose brain is also doing the exact same and they’re simultaneously changing together.
And they need each other to grow they do.
Yes, and so that separateness or that independence really inhibits that growth and then causes significant long-term brain changes that you’re saying we’re seeing right now depression, anxiety, mental health challenges, you know it’s, it’s significant, and let’s just even bring it down to postpartum in specific. I mean depression. Anxiety rates are astronomical. Suicide is the leading cause of death and mothers after having a baby. So this is a really powerful way to support our brain. But let’s bring it back a little bit.
What is it? What does it mean to nurture? How do we nurture our babies?
And it’s easy to kind of say, well, let’s not be independent, let’s be more dependent. But what does that look like? Because I feel like I never had that, I never had that, that person in my life to show me what that looked like. You know, and it’s really hard when you’re in that space to create something that you’ve never seen before.
Absolutely yeah, and nurturing. I always say that, like it’s, we’re asking a new generation to do something that they probably have never seen or experienced themselves, right, and so we do have to have so much grace for ourselves going through it.
Yeah, we do have to be really intentional about creating it and about also trying to find people in our lives we can bring in to model it, which is, luckily, that is sort of available now in a lot of places.
And a birth and postpartum doula could be a great person who could influence that for you, unless you have someone in your life, right, a role model, a family member or a friend who’s incredibly nurturing, right?
What does it mean to be nurturing?
So, yeah, let’s define it. So you know, I talk about a few big categories of nurture in my book. I think when we boil, boil it down, it’s really having awareness and responsibility for our baby’s stress system and nervous system and connection systems and also awareness of it in ourselves.
Nurture is when we’re really in an engaged relationship with our baby, where nervous systems are synchronized in a lot of different states in states of connection, in states of stress, and states of sleep the big ones.
Also like to really just have a general you know, I call it a nurtured presence, a general like total acceptance of our baby and who they are, and even acknowledging that they are a full, wonderful person right from the beginning, accepting them in all their stress states and all their emotional states, and just really having that presence that they’re enough. They’re always enough, just as they are. Yeah, I think that’s a good place to start.
As you’re sharing that, I kept thinking like how much moms need to hear that too, and I’m wondering if, as we’re repeating, that, you know too, because I am such a person who’s in my brain and I just imagine myself saying that to my baby and those really challenging times like,
my goodness, you are enough, I love you so much, and just like holding them and nurturing them and caring for them and saying those things that I’m also simultaneously addressing my own needs to be nurtured and loved in those really challenging moments.
Yes, absolutely. I always encourage parents to do that exact practice right when we’re given what we’re giving to our baby to give to our own you know inner baby as well, and we’re giving to ourselves the same compassion and acceptance and love as we do to our babies. I get so many messages from parents with that concern that my baby is doing great, but I just feel like I’m not. You know, I’m not enough. I’m not doing enough, and I need to question that. I help people with that a lot.
What would you, what would you like to hear? What is enough? What does that even mean, right? So yeah, mothers, we need so much nurturing and compassion and support as well, and it can start with us, and it’s also really nice of others can tell us so true.
So true and I’m going to be 1000% transparent here. I have always said, until I found your work, I have always said that when you care for yourself, you simultaneously meet the needs of your baby, and I think that that is true in the context of food and rest. But I think it also has become a little bit misleading, because our needs are also met when we care and nurture for a baby, and so it’s not putting our baby to an like they’re literally an extension of us, yeah, and so, yes, it’s important to nurture yourself and get the sleep that you need, but also nurturing your baby nurtures you.
It’s like a whole lifestyle shift, like a whole mindset shift right and acknowledging that in itself takes a lot of time and effort and a learning curve, and we’ve got to be super kind and gentle to ourselves and just give ourselves grace through this period, especially for those of us who’ve not had this ever in our life. You know, I think the whole idea of like healing generational trauma has been such a hot topic and I’m so grateful for that, and this is one of the ways in which you do that and probably the biggest way in which you do that.
Yes, completely I think, yeah, I think. One thing that came up was when we are nurturing our babies. How profoundly it does not trust so many people you know who sort of go through this revolutionary style of helping their babies and themselves, and they’ll say that, like, this relationship is the single most healing difficult, yes, but incredibly healing experience because you do get to nurture that inner baby again.
Those brain parts become plastic again and you get to nurture it.
Sometimes, if we’ve never had a relationship being in one with our baby, is that medicine, right, that like incredibly therapeutic relationship that can really really heal us as well.
It is so true that it’s intergenerational healing, because when we are engaging in nurture between us and our baby, we’re transforming ourselves, we’re transforming our baby and any babies that our baby might have one day. It’s changing nurture changes DNA. It changes inherited epigenetic marks that get passed on. So your baby will both have that modeling, that behavioral modeling that you’re doing, but they’re also going to have changed estrogen and oxytocin receptors in their DNA. That’s going to inherently make them high nurturers for the next generation. So it’s a lot. It’s a lot we can do.
So I shared. My background is in biology, so when I look at this through that lens, like all of this, nurturing is really a biological normal. Why do you feel we’ve gotten so far away from what is intrinsically healthy and safe for us?
Yeah, it seems like it’s really in North America at least like really tied to the Industrial Revolution. We needed people to be workers and not nurturers. We need people to be producing, doing busy, engaged in work and not being together, not being in relationship or any other emotional practice, because that didn’t make money in that system essentially. So you start there.
You want parents back at work really quickly, so having an independent baby and independent sleep and all these lower nurturing practices fits really well into that system. I think it’s been dominated by some people who are doctors, who didn’t take care of babies but were propping up that system. It’s been so many generations that it’s just deep, deep, deep in our psyche.
Yeah, I totally feel that. I think it even goes way back, and I’m sure you could agree. Midwives and medicine women were the people who were showing up and nurturing during this time, and then a lot of women were burned at the stake literally the witches and the hunting and the medical world coming up, which was very masculine and very patriarchal.
So we’ve created an entire system that’s shunned women and prevented us from even engaging in quote-unquote medicine and making what we had as medicine at one point the wrong way or the witch way or whatever you want to call it. I think that plays a huge role.
Then you have the industrial era just really created this whole United States system that is built upon not nurturing. How about that? Not nurturing not just our babies, but also ourselves, really, yes, I think this is a really good point, because if you’re listening into this and you’re a mama, absolutely don’t feel guilt or shame for raising your babies in any other way that’s been presented here, and I’m sharing this story and inviting Dr. Greer here because I want everyone to know that there is another way and one that feels a million times better. And if you’re struggling with your baby, Dr. Kirshenbaum is the answer you have been seeking.
I will tell you my story with my son. He’s almost 14 years old and in the very beginning, as my first, I was told he has to go on his crib. He’s got to be independent and I was like I’m going to do the good mom thing and I’m going to make it happen.
It was the most challenging part of my severe depression, severe anxiety. Sleep was completely non-existent and I ended up going on a trip, a vacation away, and we didn’t have a crib and I had to co-sleep with my son and it was like it literally changed our life and I never turned back. In my book Reclaiming Postpartum Wellness, I talk about the rewiring of the infant brain and how significant nurturing and connection of the baby is.
One question I get so often from readers and clients and I think I’m going to pass this off to you is that is it ever too late to begin practicing this and is my kid going to be messed up if I didn’t get to do this sooner?
How to Implement Nurture Parenting Later in Life
Such a common question? Right, because I love when we can reach people and their pregnancy or when their babies are still little under three. But so many people find this work later and the answer is yes, we can absolutely make a change at any point in our children’s lives.
We can always repair and we can always adopt some of these nurturing approaches. Right, our child doesn’t have to be a baby, or even a teenager, or even like they could be an adult, even right, to repair a lot of this. All children and people are looking for that nurtured presence from their caregivers.
They’re looking to have their full emotional expression validated and accepted. They’re authentic selves validated and accepted. We can always do massive rewiring at any point in life.
Certainly, the experience of infancy is going to be there, for sure, it does form the core of the emotional system. But that emotional system can always be rewired. It takes a lot of work, a lot of time, possibly a lot of resources in some cases, but yes, it can be changed.
Absolutely. I love that. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you wish I would have?
Oh, that’s a good question. I’m not sure. I don’t know. I think we covered right there.
That was good. That’s good. We’ve covered a lot of base here today.
I think the take-home is the big points that we covered. This is new. It’s something that we’re the first generation of parents to ever be able to access this information, wherever you’re at and you find it. Please remember that knowing that the way forward, by bringing more nurture into our relationships with our babies, can be so transformational for our baby’s future and for us, it’s a huge place to intervene.
I love that so much. Do you remember long, long time ago when they used to tell us that our brains could not be rewired? That was a thing that was very just a couple decades ago. Now we know that all of that is not true.
Yeah, I know deeply untrue. I have a theory that we’re all, in our own ways, going through, some sort of therapeutic pursuit to change our wiring and find more joy in life. It’s so possible to do.
Yeah, thank you so much for your time and your attention and all of the incredible work that you are doing. Where can people find you?
Yeah, the best place to find me is on Instagram, where my account is @nurture_neuroscience_parenting. On there I have links to my website and all kinds of things like that.
Yes, we’re going to link that along with our book here in the show notes. You can just simply scroll and click and find her amazing information. Thank you so much, so glad you’re here.
Thank you so much for having me.
Thank you, I am so grateful you turned into the postpartum university podcast. We’ve hoped you enjoyed this episode enough to leave us a quick review and, more importantly, I hope more than ever that you take what you’ve learned here, applied it to your own life and consider joining us in a postpartum university membership. It’s a private space where mothers and providers learn the real truth and the real tools needed to heal in the years postpartum. You can learn more at wwwpostpartumu.com. That’s the letter U.com. We’ll see you next week.
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